A tour guides' Manila: Top 5 places to visit

Three top Filipino tour guides—Carlos Celdran, Yael Fernandez, and Ivan Man Dy—reveal the top 5 places to visit in Metro Manila

by Oggie Ramos


The famous Manila Bay sunset. Photo by Erik Liongoren

Three top Philippine tour guides share their list of top 5 places to visit in Metro Manila, arranged in order of popularity.

1 Intramuros

Intramuros by night. Photo by Erik Liongoren

Intramuros' Casa Manila from the outside. Photo by Anson Yu

The Walled City of Intramuros, a city within a city with surrounding walls up to 22 feet high, was built in 1571 to protect the seat of the Spanish colonial government from hostile native revolts and pirates. These days Intramuros is a tourist attraction and a reminder of the country’s colonial past. Tour guide Ivan Man Dy suggests climbing up the Baluarte de San Andres for a gorgeous view of Old Manila. Tour guide Carlos Celdran calls Intramuros “the birthplace of Manila,” where one can find Fort Santiago, the baroque San Agustin Church, the Manila Cathedral, as well as Casa Manila and Bahay Tsinoy museum within the walled city’s 64-hectare grounds. The cobblestone streets and old stone houses share space with shops, schools and restaurants. Both Celdran and Dy offer walking tours of Intramuros.

2 Chinatown

Chinatwon. Photo by Anson Yu

While virtually every country in the world has its own version of Chinatown, the one in Manila holds the record of being the oldest. Established in 1594, Manila Chinatown occupies about a square kilometer of land bustling with commerce, culture and religious fervor. Dy calls Chinatown “Manila’s culinary wonderland; its food, culture, history and streetlife in one fascinating district.” His favorite stops include the old ma mi houses and panciterias (noodle houses), serving various types of noodles and steaming congee.

Celdran finds color in Chinatown, a place for wholesale shopping and a voodoo market in one. He suggests stopping by the popular 168 Mall for anything and everything at rock-bottom prices. Tour guide Yael Fernandez points out that the first Filipino saint, Lorenzo Ruiz, served as an altar boy at Binondo Church.

Dy’s “The Big Binondo Food Wok” tour takes tourists through 400 years of history and four hours of indulgence, with stops at Plaza Calderon dela Barca, Basilica de San Lorenzo Ruiz, Santo Cristo de Longos Shrine, Ongpin Street and Carvajal Alley Market.

3 National Museum

Outside the National Museum. Photo by Ferdz Decena

Celdran suggests visiting on a Sunday when admission is free. The museum, a must for every self-respecting Filipino, is a repository of the Philippines’ natural and cultural heritage, housed in three buildings in Manila—the National Art GalleryMuseum of the Filipino People, and Planetarium. The art gallery is the permanent home of Filipino artist Juan Luna’s immortal masterpiece, “Spoliarium,” painted in 1884, as well as the priceless works of Filipino masters such as Fernando Amorsolo, Vicente Mananansala, Jose Joya, Cesar Legaspi, H.R. Ocampo, BenCab and sculptors, Napoleon Abueva and Guillermo Tolentino. Its significant collections span from archaeological finds from as early as 16,000 B.C. to modern-day animals in its zoological collection. At the adjacent building, one can find the Museum of the Filipino People, four floors of changing exhibits including artifacts, treasures and armaments recovered from the Spanish battleship, San Diego. The museum shop sells Filipino handicrafts ideal for souvenirs.

National Art Gallery and the Museum of the Filipino People, Padre Burgos Drive, Manila, tel +632/ 527 1209. Open Tue to Sun 10am to 5pm.

4 American Memorial Cemetery

Sunset at the American Cemetery. Photo by Oggie Ramos

Located on 152 acres of land on a plateau in Taguig City, the American Memorial, with 17,206 graves, is the largest cemetery in the Pacific for the US military dead of World War II. It also contains the war dead from the Philippines and allied forces. The memorial is a great vantage point for viewing the city. Ivan Man Dy’s favorite spots are the benches around the memorial, offering a view of the cemetery’s well-manicured lawns and plots that form a symmetrical, circular pattern hemmed with tropical trees and shrubbery. Yael Fernandez suggests that visitors take a good look at the chapel and the 25 mosaics that dramatize the achievements of the US forces in the Pacific, China, India, and Burma during WWII.

Manila American Cemetery, Old Lawton Drive, Taguig, tel +632 844 0212. Open daily 9am to 5pm except on Christmas and New Year’s Day

5 Luneta Park

A picnic by Luneta Park. Photo by Erik Liongoren

The 58-hectare Luneta Park or Rizal Park, named after Philippine national hero Jose Rizal, who died defending his patriotic belief and immortalized in a monument erected in the park, is a favorite weekend place for Filipinos wanting to spend time away from the malls. The park, or Luneta, stretches from Taft Avenue to the seawall of Manila Bay, and has gardens, plazas, a stadium observatory, open-air concert hall, light and sound theater, fountains, playgrounds and food outlets. History buffs will appreciate the “Lights and Sounds of Rizal,” an audio-visual and three-dimensional diorama of Rizal’s execution, with life-sized sculptures by Eduardo Castrillo. You can also book a guided tour throughout the park to learn more about Rizal's last days.

“The Lights and Sounds of Rizal” runs daily at 7pm for the Tagalog version, and 8pm for the English version. The show lasts 30 minutes. Prior reservation is encouraged as there is a minimum number of guests required for the show to run.To reserve, send a request letter to [email protected] Entrance is P50 (US$1). Guided tours at the park run from 8am to 5pm daily. The tour costs P20 for adults and P10 for students. Tours take 15 to 20 minutes.

Luneta ParkPadre Burgos Avenue, Maria Y. Orosa Street, Roxas Boulevard, Manila, tel +6349/ 536 3489

Originally published in InFlight Traveller February to March 2010. Updated December 2015